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The Challenge of Changing Minds

August 19, 2012

Today’s NYTimes Magazine features an article by Maggie Koerth-Baker called “The Mind of a Flip-Flopper” that includes the following paragraph (emphasis added):

We tend to side with people who share our identity — even when the facts disagree — and calling someone a flip-flopper is a way of calling them morally suspect, as if those who change their minds are in some way being unfaithful to their group. This is nonsense, of course. People change their minds all the time, even about very important matters. It’s just hard to do when the stakes are high. That’s why marshaling data and making rational arguments won’t work.Whether you’re changing your own mind or someone else’s, the key is emotional, persuasive storytelling.

Since this blog is devoted to opening and changing minds about education, maybe it’s time to do some “emotional, persuasive storytelling” as opposed to “marshaling data and making rational arguments”. In Maryland I had a particularly insightful school board member whose mind I was trying to change on a particular issue and I began outlining the data that supported my decision and the logic behind it. Her response was: “We don’t have a misunderstanding, we have a disagreement”. She didn’t say it explicitly, but her real message was that her view of the world and mine did not reconcile on this particular issue and she wasn’t going to change her worldview based on data and logic. Would a good story change her world view? Hard to know.

Over the past couple weeks in working on a Race To The Top grant proposal, I’ve encountered resistance not to the ideas behind the draft grant proposal I’ve drafted— which is based on the Reformatting Education white paper available on this site— but rather to the whole notion that change is possible in public schools. It isn’t difficult to get people to agree that batching students by age cohorts is crazy, or that using portfolio and performance assessments is superior to using standardized tests. It IS difficult to get people to believe that it is possible to get parents, the public, and elected officials to agree with these ideas. THOSE are the stories I need to tell— but where are they to be found?


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